SCREENWRITING + BLOGGING

WritingMost of the time, what we Screenwriters write on the blog…we write about the very thing we are working on, screenwriting, and how the things are shaping up in the script, the setup, the characters, the events, the twists, and so on…..

It’s the documenting the things we are doing on a Web Log…a Blog…Screenwriters like me face a crucial problem there.

Almost always, SCREENWRITING TAKES A LONG TIME…A REAL LONG TIME..! While you work on a Script, you are so engrossed in it, that you don’t want to make notes, the obvious notes, on your blog. You don’t want to write – ‘so I’ve got one character who was meant to do something, but now I see that that would be wrong and now I’ve got him doing something else, with someone else.’ I mean what’s that…What kind of stupid documenting would that be? It’s ridiculous and I am not the person who would be happy to read such blog again with a smile. I would feel stupid and insane.

Screenwriting does go through such stages and you don’t want to put that on your blog every time. Otherwise, your friends might call you up saying ‘just stop blogging…you are writing same thing again and again, that your character is now doing other thing which wasn’t previously planned…hey, BTW what’s your character doing now?’ Such calls will make a Writer go mad, irritated and frustration would follow. It’s depressing. Not only that, if you don’t want to talk too much about what you’re writing the script about until it’s all done then it’s kind of boring to write about it too.

My point is, if you’re writing a screenplay, then you shouldn’t be blogging simultaneously – at least I won’t. Every time I sit to write a ‘blog’, the unfinished or half cooked scenes would whip me and tell to get on with actual work, finish the script, instead of the documenting the stupid things.

So relax friends…I am writing Screenplay…I will write blog when I can 🙂

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PART 2 of ‘What should I write?’: Alt Script – You Are Not Tarantino or Anurag Kashyap

The past couple of weeks I’ve had five or six fairly futile stabs at writing an article about the importance of niche cinema, with each one less to the point and less satisfying than the one before. It happens. Sometimes I know what I want to say, but am not sure how to say it. Now, although in my last Blog (‘What should I write?’ and the Advice from a Screenwriting Guru) I wrote about the Reality of the industry and what every Writer must write, this is it’s alternative view point, the flip side of the story, which is the importance of Niche Cinema.

In Screenwriting and the Film Industry it’s really difficult to present an alternative view point, without it sounding like an attack on conventional thinking, which I don’t want to do. The irony of this is, the point I want to make is precisely that, it is about attacking conventional thinking. However, at the same time it’s not. Hence the difficulty. Just how do you say, “things need to be torn down and changed,” without saying, “the industry’s way of working is BS?”

The industry doesn’t exist to innovate or to uncover unconventional approaches to screenwriting. The industry exists, quite simply, to create mass market products which fill cinemas and sell popcorn. And, the way the industry does this by sticking rigidly to three basic rules:

  1. If something worked, do it again, and again, and again
  2. If someone makes money doing something you don’t understand, hire them
  3. Once you understand how they do it, apply rule one

Which brings me to the point I wanted to get to, which is, most of the things you will be told to do to succeed as a screenwriter, by either the Script Gurus and industry Script Readers (? Self-proclaimed mostly), came into the industry because an artist / film-maker made money or gained public approval by doing something the industry didn’t understand. These Mavericks and Independents, wrote scripts and made films no one at the heart of the mainstream industry could or would put into production. By doing that, successfully, they forced the industry to reconsider what the rules were and what was possible. Today’s conventional “this is how it is done” thinking, was yesterday’s “mad as bats” alt-cinema.

Did you know that there was a time in Cinema history worldwide when it would have been inconceivable for anyone within the industry to shoot movies on location or to attempt realism in Cinema. At that point in cinema history worldwide, the industry believed that cinema needed to be glamorous, epic and completely synthetic. It was the Independent Filmmakers / Makers of Parallel Cinema who changed that, by making better and more interesting movies by adding the realism of location shooting, and by telling the stories of everyday folk.

So, what does this mean?

Well, in the first place it means that there are always two different kinds of Screenwriters.

The First Kind is Artisan-Screenwriters. These are the kind of writers whose skills lie in finding interesting ways to interrupt conventional wisdom, as it exists in the industry, at that point in cinema history. In 1940’s Italy, that meant studio epics with lots of togas and horses. In present day Hollywood, it means ticking all the boxes a script reader needs to tick. In present day Bollywood, it means making popcorn movies, the no-brainers or star-studded blockbusters. Many articles on internet are written to elucidate and educate artisan-screenwriters, as are most of the books written to teach you how it’s done. Script Gurus live and die by the rigid application of rule one.

The Second Kind of screenwriters is the Artist-Mavericks. These are the screenwriters who don’t give a flying-monkey’s nut about character arcs or plot points. They come to the party with a specific vision of what a film could be like if you just did ‘A’. ‘A’ in this case being the interesting thing the writer has in their head. ‘A’ also being the one thing that no Producer would ever pass, the idea that no Producer / Financier would ever finance.

If you want to be a successful Artisan-screenwriter, you should keep in mind – You are NOT Tarantino. You’re not required to change cinema or bring a unique vision to the screen, you are required to turn out good product. Your job is to help the industry apply rule number one: If it worked before, do it again. That’s what I was talking about in my last Blog (‘What should I write?’ and the Advice from a Screenwriting Guru).

What the industry requires from its Artisans are competence and a willingness to know their place. You get the pay cheque, but you get that by playing nicely with others, dotting your “I’s” and crossing your “T’s.”  If your ambitions are to be a successful Artisan-Screenwriter, then when you get notes about typos or unrealistic dialogue, the one thing you are not allowed to say is “Tarantino did this” or “Anurag Kashyap does this”.

Now, ironically, if your ambition is to be a successful Artist-Maverick, then you are also NOT Tarantino. You are not Anurag Kashyap (and actually Anurag Kashyaps of the Industry are also changing). Hollywood already has a QT, Bollywood already has a Anurag Kashyap, it already has a Vikramaditya Motwane, and there are many more coming up and making names for themselves. The Industry doesn’t need or want more than one of those guys. If you want to be a rule breaker and a maverick, you have to present your unique vision of cinema, the emphasis being on the unique element. Show the world a movie we’ve never seen before and change our view of what is possible. Smash the rules to little bits and have all the Script Gurus saying “Well, ‘A’ is unique, his/her work stands alone. The rules don’t apply.” The only thing is, don’t expect the industry to financially support your experiments, until you’ve shown them that a buck can be turned from it.

The bottom line is that the industry is a mass market industry; it is about making the films that pretty much anyone can enjoy. Maverick talents are always niche. They always split audiences into those who love what they do and those who hate it.

My conclusions are different. I believe that whether the industry is prepared to finance it or not, cinema needs a constant battering from new ideas and new talents. The rules the industry applies to make movies need constant refreshing and savagely challenging. We need to write and make the movies that the industry doesn’t even know that it wants to make, yet. We need to write the scripts they will hate, and make the films they won’t take a risk on. And, the great news is that there has never been a better time to do that. Now is the time to write the best scripts we can, and to produce them ourselves.

My final thought is a question:

Given that cinema needs to constantly evolve, if it isn’t to become stale and tedious, what kind of movies should we be making?

‘What should I write?’ and the Advice from a Screenwriting Guru

After more than 4 Months, I guess, I am writing the blog. I was busy writing stuff and some scripts. I met some of the really talented fellow Writers during some Film Festivals recently. I also attended some one-day Script Writing workshops during these Film Festivals and came to the same conclusion after meeting a few ‘Screenwriting Gurus’. I also watched some mega-budget films like ‘Happy New Year’ recently. I wish to share some thoughts and experiences here. So without taking any names and defining situations, here is what I felt.

Let’s say you’re an aspiring screenwriter. Whenever you read an interview of a working Screenwriter or Screenwriter Guru and they are asked, “What should I write?” The response is almost always this:

“Write what you’re passionate about.”

You go to any Film Festival you will find at least one One-Day Screenwriting Workshop conducted by a big name – a proven, successful and famous Screenwriting Guru. You ask him/her, “What should I write?”, and you will get same answer:

 “Write what you’re passionate about.”

That sounds so earnest, honest, and aesthetically responsible.

But what if what you’re passionate about is a Period Drama involving three brothers, each of whom begins their journey in a different distant land, eventually intersecting at their rural family homestead for a week. There they recall their journeys, the people they met and some random, obscure stories from their past; their sagas conveyed in lengthy monologues.

Or say…

You’re utterly eager to write that script about a failed sculpture who is working on a statue of an Angel that comes to life in the moonlight. It’s also a period piece, and a musical; the story unfolds in a very lyrical way.

But facts are facts. Each of these scripts is a really hard to sell in Bollywood. Although these are the Scripts you are very ‘Passionate About’.

On the other hand, the potential projects Bollywood is dying to catch are: Comedy, Action-Thrillers, RomComs – the three biggest genres in the contemporary filmmaking. Think of them as big-budget-biggest-grossing-blockbusters, just waiting to be made – the famous Rs.100 Crores and Rs.200 Crores Club.

So how in God’s own Earth are you going to avoid these big blockbusters? You simply cannot.

Probably because those same well-intentioned Writers or Screenwriting Gurus who once told you to ‘write what you’re passionate about’ failed to let you in on the fact that ‘Bollywood barely gives two shits about your passion’. Rather they care about what they are passionate about — which is ‘Making Money’.

Comedy, Action-Thrillers, RomComs. The Genres that have proven time and again they are the most likely to net big box office revenues.

So my Advice is: Come up with a strong Story Concept in one of these three major Genres. Find some sort of emotional resonance to the Characters. And then write the hell out of it.

That’s your best bet to hook a deal in Bollywood or Indian Film Industry.

Remember: To catch a big fish, don’t stand in the water where you should actually be fishing!

Easiest way to learn the craft of Screenwriting

ImageI was watching a Movie, an old favourite, and my wife asked me how the Writer of that movie must have wrote it, how he must have approached this story or subject, what was he thinking. I tried my best to explain the general ways Writers approach the story and start expanding it in a screenplay. Then she asked me ‘can she learn Screenwriting?’

“Yes…Anybody can write a Screenplay!”

She said that she doesn’t want to sit through classes or read heavy and lengthy Screenwriting books; she may get bored easily. I asked then how she would like to learn the process. And then she asked: which is the easiest way to learn the craft of Screenwriting?

For a moment, nothing pop up in my mind for reply. But my mind was working and processing different ideas with the speed of light. How can you understand the small details of a Script, the nuances of a Character, the journey of the protagonist, etc. without attending any Screenwriting Seminar or Classes or without reading any book? And I kept thinking:

“A Screenplay is a Blueprint to make a Movie. And it is that Magic of what happens between Printed Pages of Script and Final Print of the Movie that can inform how you approach writing scenes.”

Then how can you learn about that Blueprint of a particular Movie? And then I found the answer…

“The single best thing you can do to learn the craft of Screenwriting is to read the Script of the Movie while watching it.”

I, myself, was shocked to realise the easiest way of learning the Screenwriting. My Wife couldn’t believe with the simplest way of learning Screenwriting. She was pretty impressed. I won her heart, again. But, yes, I had found the simplest way of learning the Craft of Screenwriting.

Writing for ACTORS

I am watching Tom Hank’s movies for a while now. Needless to say that he is an extraordinary Actor. The range of emotions he shows is outstanding. Every Character he portrays has an uniqueness to it. Always, he appears fresh and brilliant in every single Film, that you can watch his films again and again…

Just watched ‘The Terminal‘ again after a long time and still I got fascinated with his, Mr. Narvoski. He sneaks into the skin of the character so smoothly that you get attracted towards him and start feeling for him.

Now, I believe that he must have some thoughts behind choosing a Film. He needs to feel the connection with the character before he signs the dotted lines I guess. He has a taste of his own. I think, before zeroing on any particular Script, he must be going through the emotional journey of the given character. And for that Tom Hanks must have his own philosophy… for Films, for Life, for everything..!

Not all but a few successful Actors/Actresses do choose the films on such basis I believe. And I guess that’s the trick for a Writer to learn and understand before approaching any Actor/Actress.

Many Writers write the Scripts keeping some Actor in mind. That pays off some times, but only if you can make that Actor connect with your Story, with your Character. Convincing an Actor or Actress becomes easy when you know what they think and how they think and why they think so… If you study the Actor you desire to play the specific role, you will find they searching for something. They always want particular things from a Character written for them. That Character could be anybody, a Joker, a Villain, a Hero, a Murderer, a Policeman, a Politician, a Teacher, a Rapist, a Lawyer, a Soldier or even a Janitor. You must give them exactly what they want from a character.

And I guess that’s the trick. I urge all my Writer-Friends to go through this process if they are willing to write a Script or a Character keeping a particular Actor or Actress in mind.

Give them a GOAL, raise the Stakes for them and then give them a time limit to fulfill the task, create the Urgency for the character. Such gripping flow will catch their imagination and they will agree with your Character and sign the Script…Trust me they will..!

It all started with, ‘WHAT IS STORY?’

This is something I came up with when I actually started thinking about the Film Script Writing. And it all started with the basic question – “What is Story?”

Trust me, I am running Script Writing Courses and have faced many students with this basic question asking on the very first day. I had to find out simplest way of telling them…in their own simple words. Here what I came up with…

 

Keep Writing...

Keep Writing…

So what is a Story?

Story is ‘WHAT’.

And then what is Screenplay?

Screenplay is ‘HOW’…described in Audio-Video Medium and told or written in a visual format.

Then what about Book Writing? How do you define it? What is the difference between Book and Cinema?

Book is an ‘Individual Impression’ of ‘Personal Relations’. The Story happens in the mind of the Protagonist, mostly.

And

Cinema is an ‘Expression’ of ‘Collective Assumptions’. The Story happens around the Protagonist, which he is a part of.

 

Now, the LOGLINE:

Logline is the Story told in 3 to 5 lines. Generally, the Story told in 3 lines qualifies to be called a ‘STORY’.

Line 1: Who is this Story about?

Line 2: What happened to him/her/them?

Line 3: What is the result of the Situation or Crisis he/she/they went through?

Once you write these 3 Lines or LOGLINE, you are ready to start writing the Screenplay in a proper Structure.

We will talk about it later………

Keep Smiling..! Keep Writing..!